Prom, Homecoming, Pep Rallies, classrooms, malls – many of the places you’ll find teens during the fall and winter months. As the long sun-filled days of summer fade away, the doors to tanning salons swing wide open.
While it’s no secret that UVB rays – the ones that cause sunburn – are the main cause of skin cancer, a new study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology shows that UVA rays can in fact cause a serious risk of skin cancer because they target the areas beneath the surface where cells divide to create new layers.
For the study, scientists compared the DNA-damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation by shining both types on the buttocks of 12 healthy volunteers. By cutting away small layers of skin, the researchers found that UVB rays mainly damaged the skin’s top layers, but the UVA rays formed lesions on the skin’s deepest layers. The study’s authors say that’s worrisome, because UVA rarely burns the skin, so people – in particular teens – might not realize damage being done.
The study found UVA rays are more carcinogenic than previously thought; a finding scientists say underscores how important it is to limit exposure to the sun and to tanning salons.
“The doses we used were comparable for erythema — sunburn – for UVA and UVB. That would be roughly equivalent to the doses needed for tanning in each spectrum,” said study co-author Antony R. Young, a professor at the St. John’s Institute of Dermatology at King’s College School of Medicine in London.
“Tanning salons still tend to claim that UVA is safe, but that’s nonsense,” Young told London’s The Daily Mail, “It may be more carcinogenic than previously thought.”
The main concern is preventing skin cancer, particularly melanoma, a very serious and possibly life-threatening type of skin cancer. Teens often think of skin cancer as an “old person’s disease.” In fact, melanoma is one of the most common cancers in young adults (ages 25 to 29). Each year, more than 50,000 people in the U.S. learn that they have melanoma.
“Indoor tanning is like smoking for your skin,” said Dr. Doris Day, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “It’s the single worst thing you can do in terms of skin cancer and premature aging.”
Many indoor tanning salons advertise that tanning beds can help boost the body’s production of vitamin D, known as the sunshine vitamin because skin makes it when exposed to the sun’s rays. “This is nonsense and an excuse,” Day said. “We know people burn in tanning beds and that UVA and UVB are toxic.
Since March 2010, The FDA has been considering enacting a ban on tanning booth use for anyone under the age of 18. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Dermatology support a ban on the use of tanning booths by minors.
While teens may think that a tan gives them a healthy looking glow, parents and caregivers need to help them understand the dangers of tanning. Whether it’s outdoors or indoors – too much UVB / UVA rays can lead to serious health problems. And of course, parents should teach by example. If mom and dad are spending time in the tanning booth, telling your teen to stay out is not going to have much of an impact.